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  • Writer's pictureAni Kodjabasheva

Optimise Campus Safety in 3 Steps

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

No higher ed institution can become 100% remote. Here is what you need to do to provide maximum safety for students and staff on campus.

Campus leaders and governments across the world are making difficult decisions about what the next semester will look like. There is a range of options for them to consider, and each one involves complicated tradeoffs.

No higher ed institution can become fully remote. A balance needs to be struck between on-site and online operations. In any case, campus leaders have to manage risk and ensure optimal safety for the students and staff on site.

On campus, online, or both?

Some schools, especially in the US, are committed to holding the autumn semester on campus. Australia has already begun a phased reopening. Elsewhere, for example in the Netherlands and Indonesia, most classes will remain online until 2021, whereas in the UK and in India, blended learning is the future.

What is emerging in all of these scenarios, however, is that no campus can be 100% remote. Some teaching activities and operations need to happen on-site.

For example, the California State University – the largest in the US with 23 campuses – announced that it will opt for online classes in the autumn. Nevertheless, activities that cannot be accomplished remotely – from lab research to art classes – will proceed on-site. Similarly, the University of Cambridge (UK) will hold all lectures online, but students can choose to attend optional in-person tutorials.

In any event, essential workers such as security guards need to be present. Qualified employees need to maintain operations at multiple sites, from science labs to IT server rooms. Whether they opt for in-person or mostly online teaching, campus leaders have to plan ahead and minimise risk for students and staff who need to be on campus.

#1. Create an inclusive campus safety plan

Different members of the campus community would be impacted in different ways by safety measures. That is why a campus contingency plan should engage all stakeholders and factor in feedback.

Boston University (US) has developed an inclusive yet agile planning process that takes into account different groups’ opinions and expert analysis. Representatives from the areas of academia, student life, health, and institutional finances make proposals and then collectively evaluate what impact they would have. As soon as a proposal is approved, it becomes part of the plan. That way, leaders can proactively ensure safety while minimising unintended consequences.

A good contingency plan should include a range of scenarios. Depending on the levels of risk, schools should be prepared to transition between on-site and online learning. The Asia School of Business (Malaysia), for example, is creating a plan B for a “partially digital fall semester” by collaborating with academics across the world to teach remote courses. Decreasing the number of people on campus is an option that leaders should keep in mind.

#2. Promote a culture of physical distancing

Making a safety plan is the first step. Next comes getting all members of the campus community to take part. Writing in The New York Times, leaders from Cornell University and Hamilton College (both US) recommend developing programmes to unite students around the shared purpose of safety.

Universities should communicate clear rules about social distancing and explain the consequences of not following them. Measures similar to those in cases of disciplinary misconduct can deter students from acting irresponsibly. Positive reinforcement, however, is more important. David Wippman of Hamilton College and Dr Glenn Altschuler of Cornell suggest hiring student mediators who can get their peers on board.

Additionally, universities can announce competitions for student research and artwork addressing the impacts of coronavirus. Holding socially distant outdoor events can reinforce school spirit at a challenging time. Finally, Wippman and Altschuler suggest encouraging students to create and wear masks that express their individuality and values.

#3. Provide reliable protection for students and staff on campus

Protective masks have become one of the most potent symbols in the fight against Covid-19. They are also highly effective – the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that people always wear face coverings in public spaces. Even homemade masks provide some protection, while medical-grade ones significantly minimise risk.

Masks plus hand sanitising and social distancing are the best formula we have to protect students and staff from the coronavirus. For this to work, schools need a steady supply of protective equipment. This important step should not be left to the last minute.

Not all masks and sanitisers are created equal. Advent Life, a new venture by higher ed services leader Advent Group, is providing universities worldwide with high-quality protective equipment made in the EU. Products can be customised with the school’s logo and colours to boost school spirit. This innovative service makes it easier for universities to safely reopen or to ensure undisturbed operations this autumn.

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